River Avon and Tommore Burn smolt traps

The smolt traps in the Tommore Burn and the Avon have been operating for almost two weeks now with low numbers of fish caught in the Avon trap so far. The smolt run in the Tommore Burn picked up yesterday with eight fin-clipped presmolts and fifty nine this morning; all but three of which had been fin-clipped. Water temperatures remain low with the Tommore Burn running at 3.5oC today and the Avon 2.3oC. The water level in the Tommore Burn has risen from 13cm on Monday to 19cm today, the highest level recorded since the trap was installed.

The Tommore Burn trap, an excellent installation by Jimmy Woods and the bailiffs

The Tommore Burn trap, an excellent installation by Jimmy Woods, Steve Brand and the bailiffs

Graph showing Tommore Burn smolt catch to date

Graph showing Tommore Burn smolt catch to date

A fin-clipped salmon presmolt from the Tommore Burn trap

A fin-clipped salmon presmolt from the Tommore Burn trap (Photo J. Woods)

The smolt run should get underway in earnest within the next week or two assuming that water temperatures rise.

There are 13 comments for this article
  1. henry spence at 8:57 pm


    I would be interested to hear your views on the comments below that I came across on the Helmsdale website. Henry

    “I agree with the Callander McDowell article in reporting that the success in Scotland of a rejuvenating salmon river is the West Coast River Carron.

    Bob Kindness, a former fishery biologist from the Inverness College, has transformed our neighbouring river, the West Coast Carron, from a catch of 4 salmon per annum, to over 400. His technique is to hatch salmon ova from native brood stock, under hatchery conditions, to the stage of parr and smolts and place them in the Carron, soon to migrate to sea. Accepting that approximately only 5 per cent will return to the river, it is better 5% of 8000 smolts migrating than 5% of 80 smolts which have survived 3 years from ova to smolt in a “winter storm savaged” river, plagued with predators!

    Bob’s technique is not original. The Icelandic Rivers, the West and East Ranga, only 14 miles in length and with a short summer season of 3 months, from no salmon, are now the leading Iceland salmon rivers with a catch of over 12,000 salmon p.a. Because of Volcanic ash on the beds of the rivers, the Rangas cannot breed native smolts. The river bank owners appointed a trading entity to stock up to 400,000 smolts p.a. The cost of a smolt can be as much as 40 pence. There is a value to the Icelandic economy of £1000 for each salmon caught. The chances for the angler are more than 1 salmon per angler effort day, instead of one in 5 days on Scottish rivers. It is not surprising that U.K. and other anglers are deserting Scottish waters for those overseas, where they not only catch more than one per day, but may keep and eat a prime product. In my experience the hatchery bred salmon fights, looks and tastes the same as the salmon which survived in the river three years from ova to smolt. Only a count of scales can detect a hatchery bred from a river survived salmon.

    Hopefully in the interests of the rural economy, the Scottish Government will look further than the Wild Fisheries Review, for how the River Carron and other rivers in Iceland, Norway and elsewhere have succeeded inrescuing the wild salmon. The alternative is that many a Scottish salmon river, will suffer the same fate as the Rangas, and not as a result of volcanic ash!

    Mark Pattinson

    Proprietor, Lochcarron estate

    • Brian Shaw Author at 9:23 pm

      I will reply in due course Henry, hardly time to tie my shoe laces at the moment. Be back in touch in a day or two. I am aware of some figures that will be of relevance. Brian

    • Brian Shaw Author at 10:17 pm

      Hi Henry,
      Saw the jist of the Mark Pattinson letter weeks ago when Martin Jaffa of Callander McDowell took advantage of the massive unprotected email circulation list send by someone at the Scottish Government. The success of the River Carron is well known although there is a bit more to Bob’s stocking that mentioned in the letter. However I’d probably do the same myself if I was running a river in the midst of the west coast aquaculture industry, although Bob doesn’t consider fish farming to be a major problem. In the words of a friend of mine Bob uses the “scattergun approach” with fish stocked out at all stages. In fact I remember Bob saying the same at an evening presentation we held with him in Ayrshire. The claimed 5% return rate is probably extremely generous, the River Carron Restoration Project Report – Project Report Feb 2015 (http://www.rivercarron.org.uk/documents/RCRP-Report.aspx ) shows that the return rate of stocked smolt to the rod was betwen 0.06 to 0.11%. If 20% of the river entering the river were caught the overall return rate was five times higher giving a return to the river of between 0.3 to 0.55%, an order of magnitude lower than claimed by Mark Pattinson. You may say that a rod recapture rate of 20% is high but the report also states that an average of 17% of the rod caught fish may have been caught at least once before. This suggests that the rod exploitation rate could be even higher and the adult return rate lower.
      The Ranga situation is also well known but its success has never been replicated in Scotland where return rates of smolts have generally been low. David Summers of the Tay Salmon Fishery Board wrote an excellent paper on smolt stocking a couple years ago (http://www.tdsfb.org/documents/FAQsSmoltStocking.pdf ) David’s report does highlight the better returns experienced on the Delphi where linebred ranched fish now produce returns similar to wild smolts. The not insubstantial costs involved are also highlighted.
      But you asked about my view on the letter. Well smolt stocking is generally something only done as a last resort as it is expensive, prone to failure, damaging to genetically variability, may have a tendency to produce late running fish, etc. It is highly unlikely that smolt stocking would in any way make any meaningfull positive difference to runs on a river like the Spey. This river has a rich history of stocking, with all different life stages, but there is not a shred of evidence that any of the attempts made any noticeable difference indeed the only real evidence shows that it didn’t. Our current hatchery is operated to provide mitigation stocking above man-made obstacles, a role which it is doing fine. With the Tommore Burn project and it’s smolt trap we will learn even more about stocking strategies.
      With the involvement of Callander McDowell (fish farming consultant/PR/spindoctor), Mark Pattinson (ex fish farmer) and Bob Kindness (great guy whom I have known for a long time, but he is not known for his criticism of the aquculture industry) there is a danger that apparent synergies between the fish farming industry and reducing runs of wild fish outside the west coast are promoted as the way ahead. That must be resisted otherwise the great diversity of salmon present in Scottish rivers is under even greater threat. I do however agree that the increasing frequency of potentially damaging spates is of concern here as well.
      I even see that the issue of smolt stocking in west and east coast rivers has been recently raised in the Scottish parliament by an MSP, we live in interesting times!

  2. Dougie Ross at 4:21 pm

    Hi Brian.
    As Ishbel says it’s a great result and I hear there are around 100 in this morning (Sunday ).
    Steve Brand, Jimmy and all who helped should be very proud of their work on this project.
    Given that a project like this shows to certain critics within our own board and even the wider scientific community that hatchery bred fish do actually live beyond the first week would it not make good sense to expand this project to other burns?
    Cheers. Dougie.

    • Ryan clark at 12:10 pm

      Excellent news about the smolts. Hopefully the evidence will push things in the right direction for expanding the program.

    • Allan mckay at 11:58 am

      Great news about the smolts progect ,hopefully they will do this in all the other burns , and the spey could be back to what it was year ago , totaly agree with dougie ross

      • Brian Shaw Author at 10:27 pm

        Hi Alan, thanks for the comment. See my reply to Dougie below. Note that it was a stocking project based on stocking parr, so a little more than a smolt project.

    • Brian Shaw Author at 10:25 pm

      Hi Dougie, I was on holiday last week but have now caught up with various issues including the smolt traps. I think the best day was 89 in the Tommore trap but only 2 today in the low and cold water. A few interesting points I have noted are:
      1 – the water temp in the Tommore burn has been lower than the Avon; in the morning at least, usually about 1oC lower (it would be interesting to have temperature loggers in both the burn and river to monitoring the overall temperature difference). The mean temperature recorded so far at the Tommore trap is 4.66oC and 5.0oC at the Avon.
      2 – we have caught 244 smolts in the Tommore trap, only a few not fin clipped
      3 – we have caught 320 smolts in the Avon traps, including a few of the Tommore Burn fin clipped fish (461 at this date last year)
      4 – the recapture rate of the fin clipped fish in the Avon traps has been low (about 2% so far)
      5 – the Tommore Burn fish appear to be moving in advance of the Avon smolts
      Conditions have been nice and stable so far allowing the traps to operate well. Given the colder winter and spring we have experienced this year compared to last I would expect the smolt migration to be later this spring. The cumulative mean air temperature in Aviemore for the first three months of 2015 was 249 degree days compared to 361 in 2014. Our previous smolt trapping, and that of others, has established a relationship between the mean air temp and mean smolt migration date.
      On your more general points I don’t think that anyone doubts that stocked fish can survive in freshwater, that has been known and understood for over a century. As you know we have stocked many other burns which have been rendered inaccessible due to man made obstacles. However not since the late Walter Polson’s day has a trap been operated in a stocked burn in the catchment. If conditions remain as they have been the Tommore trap will allow us to groundtruth estimates of smolt production, which to date have relied on extrapolation of electrofishing survey results. At the public meeting in Aberlour in Oct 2014 I showed a slide detailing that the predicted number of smolts from the Tommore Burn in 2015 would be 823 based on the electrofishing surveys we did with the ghillies in June 2014. The 244 captured so far is a good start towards that number.
      By expanding the project do you mean operating traps in other stocked burns?
      Best regards

  3. Bryan herbert at 11:29 am


    As you know what quantity of fin clipped fish was stocked are you going to give a survival % at the end of the smolt run as by the looks of your trap unless you get high water the trap on the tormmore burn you will catch 100% of smolts migrating down stream. Also by using the quantity of fin clipped fish from this trap you can work out the efficiency of your lower traps and this should aid you in calculating a better estimate of total smolt run.

    • Brian Shaw Author at 11:50 am

      Absolutely Bryan. The great thing about the trap is that it allows us to groundtruth estimates of smolt production based on our electrofishing results from previous years. You are right, unless we get a really big spate the trap should catch everything coming downstream. Today for example we had the first trout, a parr of just over 100mm. We were discussing on the way to the traps today that we might get some of the fin-clipped fish in the lower traps. Last year we estimated we were catching approximately 1 in 8 of the smolts running down the Avon (based on mark recapture of some of the smolts). The recapture rate for fin-clipped fish will provide another measure of efficiency. We have had about 80 fin-clipped smolts from the Tommore so far but only one in the lower traps, but they are quite likely to be holding station in the Avon between the Tommore Burn and the lower traps at present.

  4. Ishbel Grant at 10:40 am

    Great result !

    • Brian Shaw Author at 10:46 am

      Hi Ishbel, good wee run of smolts down the Tommore yesterday. Only five today but there will be plenty more when the temperature warms up. We caught one of fin-clipped smolts in the Avon traps further downstream today; the first fin-clipped smolt in the lower traps so far.
      Best regards

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